Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Well of Words and What to Do With It

I do not want to be thrown in a cauldron with the other oathbreakers. I have a feeling that the great One-Eyed god will be less than lenient with me if I reneg on my oath to write a post today. So here goes.

One of the things that confounds me sometimes is that I will, every few weeks or so, find that I simply have nothing in the well where the words usually are. Usually I can just drop the bucket into the well and pull up some words, no big deal. But sometimes the well is dry and I just have to wait for it to fill back up. If you're on a deadline, then I have to find other options. I look for puddles nearby that I can sop up, maybe try to squeeze some words from something else I wrote a while back and discarded.

Ideally, though, I have to wait for the words to pile up a bit before I can start going again. Now here's the question: what can you do to help fill the well with new words? When I can't write, I spend a lot of time reading, which seems to help a bit. It makes sense: some of the words in those books are bound to get shaken loose from the page and fall down into the well. But sometimes even reading seems too hard, too uninspiring. When I can't read, I'll watch a movie, preferably something that I've never seen, something that came out a long time ago and isn't part of the current zeitgeist; the words are always better if they've been aged a bit first. If I can't watch a movie, I'll watch TV. If I can't even watch TV, then I know I'm screwed. Then it just becomes a waiting game. Me and my blank computer screen. Me lying on the couch looking up at the ceiling. Me waiting.

But then, after that waiting, something finally clicks. It's never a conscious thing. Never a "I'm going to get up and write now, by Odin's beard!" Instead, an idea comes into the front of the mind. "What if..." and I get up and run to the keyboard. "What if... What if..." and the words are now spilling up out of the well unbidden.

It's an interesting cycle, and it seems to work for me. The downside, though, is that during the waiting part, I often have thoughts along the lines of, "My career is over." and "I will never have another good idea again, assuming I ever had any to begin with." These are feelings that I'd rather avoid entirely if at all possible.

So I put it to my fellow Clockworkers: what's your pattern? Do you ever end up in that waiting place? If so, do you have ways to get out of it? Do you have ways of avoiding it altogether? How do you keep regular bucketfuls of words coming out of the well?


  1. My strategy is always to be working on several things at once, usually in different stages of development. So if I'm not quite feeling it (or if, as has been the case the last couple of days, I'm fuzzy-headed with a cold), I switch from writing to outlining, or from doing dialogue to blocking out a scene in another script. Switching to something else usually gets the juices flowing enough that I'm able to get back to the thing I was originally stuck on, and to get moving again.

  2. Writing several things at once is a good way to fill the well again, as Chris said. I also do what you do, which is read, but I go back and read my own work -- things published long ago, or at least not the previous issue of what I am working on. If that doesn't work I read the work of absolutely terrible writers (I won't name names, but I have a few emergency crap books ready to hand at all times). See, I'm not looking to get inspired, I'm looking to get either mad (How could that hack get published?) or cocky (At my worst I can write better than this!) and that usually brings the ideas flowing again, and the words with it.

    If I can change metaphors on you, it's not a dry well, it's a logjam, and to break those up one uses dynamite -- which I find comes from the anger at reading the crap-mongers.

    Then again, I could just have issues.

  3. When I'm dry, or logjammed, or otherwise blocked, a trick I've used is to start a "doesn't count" file. Open up a new Word document, and start talking to myself. Nothing I write will get used... until I stumble across some dialog, or an interesting idea, or something that prompts me to insert it in the current work in progress.

    I stole this trick from a creative writing professor, who actually used two typewriters -- one with "didn't count" blue paper, and one with the WIP.

  4. My well is pretty dry now. But in my case, that means that I can ink or color the webcomic in my mental downtime. Reading helps some. I normally consume about 10 comics a week and I have been reading a load of prose lately. More on that in a moment.

    I have an OGN that needs a polish draft, a finished first issue of a crime comic that needs a pitch document, two novels that stalled in the middle, an idea for a detective novel, two pitches out there in somebody's inbox and some work on a game I need to finish. Unfortunately, I'm flailing away, high-centered like a turtle on a speed bump. For part of my problems and blockage, I blame Matt Sturges.

    I finished reading Midwinter yesterday and read Office of Shadow a month or so back. I said nice things about them on my facebook page. They are so good that they're making me rethink my approach to similar work. It's pissing me off. Much of my work feels flat to me like it is missing some umph, like in triumph. I suppose that after the first of the year, I'll buckle down, knock out a re-write and bang out some more prose pages. I need to kick it to the finish.

    I find that I write pretty quickly if I know that I'll get paid when I get finished. The common denominator for the above list of work is that the closest deadline is mid-February. Deadlines help. I finished the four scripts for the ***** mini-series in two weeks. Once I know how the story plays out, I can get to 'the end' pretty quickly.

    For me, GI Joe was right when he said the knowing is half of the battle.

  5. I've got a bad, yet oh so handy excuse: "Well, I really should be concentrating on my day job, shouldn't I?" It's a pernicious form of procrastination.